ADHD Drug Overdoses On The Rise Among U.S Children: Study

Researchers warn of a growing trend of teenagers and young adults overdosing on stimulants used to treat attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), calling for additional efforts to screen those who are likely to misuse the medications.

According to a study published this month in the medical journal Pediatrics, older children and young adults are experiencing nonfatal ADHD drug overdoses at record rates, due to overprescribing of the stimulants by the medical community, as well as a failure to properly childproof the medications packaging.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed non-fatal drug overdoses recorded in the agency’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program BioSense Platform from 2016 through 2019. There were nearly 90 million non-fatal drug overdoses occurred during that time period, involving children and young adults from 10 to 24 years of age, which were related to stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs, including those commonly used to treat attention deficient and hyperactivity disorder.

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Researchers categorized the age ranges into three groups: 0 to 10; 11 to 14; and 15 to 24. Each age group was observed to have an increased rate of nonfatal overdose cause by stimulants with those 0-10 increasing 3.3%, 11 to 14 year old increasing 4%, and 15-24 year olds increasing by 2.3%.

When broken down, researchers indicate that among children under the age of ten years old, about 22 out of every 10,000 emergency room visits were for a nonfatal drug overdose; 43 per 10,000 emergency room visits for youths ages 11 to 14; and 85 per 10,000 visits for ages 15 to 24.

Douglas Roehler, an epidemiologist at the CDC, and his team of researchers are calling for targeted intervention to prevent stimulant overdoses, with an emphasis on preventing overdoses in young children. The overdoses often are unintentional and due to poorly non-childproofed packaging or because the medications were left out in reachable areas for children, according to their findings.

In recent years, poison control centers across the U.S. have received on average about 200 phone calls a week involving children exposed to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs, stating calls related to accidental ingestion have been steadily rising since 2000. However, for children who are prescribed stimulant medications, researchers have called for evidence-based prevention programming and an evaluation of the dosing guidelines on opioids for teenagers, which past studies have found can lead to life-long dependencies on the drugs.

A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics earlier this year found the opioid overdose risk for teens was three times higher if they had a mental health or substance use disorder. According to their findings, half of overdoses involved teens with a recent mental health diagnosis and one-quarter involved patients with substance use disorders.

Last week, a panel of pediatric doctors was convened by the American Pediatric Surgical Association Outcomes and Evidence-based Practice Committee, to establish new pediatric opioid painkiller guidelines focusing on how to prevent opioid abuse among adolescents. The guidelines outline how doctors should approach and prescribe opioids for children following surgery.

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